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The Goal and Glory of Christian Discipleship—Philippians 1:6

Observe God's fantastic work in the lives of His children!

Paul J. Bucknell

Purpose: Something much greater is happening to us as Christians. We often lose sight of the extraordinary power of God at work in our lives, not only to bring us to faith, but to develop and exercise Christlike graces towards others. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul describes love, one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, in trusting, caring for, and helping others. As we resign our own fleshly desires, we allow the Spirit of God to arise in us and are quite capable of being kind, forgiving, and gracious to all.

Philippians 1:6 describes the great purpose God has for our Christian lives. The less-used word ‘discipleship’ in the title adds a key thought of approach and methodology within it that provides important clues on how the Christian life develops. Jesus Himself used it in the Great Commission.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mat 28:18-20)

Video: The Goal and Glory of Christian Discipleship—Philippians 1:6

Part of our Discipleship 1 Digital Library

The Goal and Glory of Christian Discipleship—Philippians 1:6

The church, however, has totally neglected this command and largely considered listening to a sermon as the main point of instruction, neglecting the personal aspect of Christian life. For example, if I ask most Christians about how their faith is, they think first of their attendance at church. Attendance is good, of course, but it does not plow deep enough to eradicate the foul plants that can grow up in our souls.

Our key passage and message will not focus on any discipleship program but the crucial assumptions underlying the whole edifice of Christian development. God has started an ongoing sanctifying work in each genuine Christian. Discipleship is the recognition of what God is doing, eagerly learning and embracing not only the new discoveries but the design and purpose for which God has formed you. The word ‘disciple’ means learner. The disciple is not only observing what is happening but as a good learner constantly adjusting his/her position.

My Story

I thought it might help to share with you a bit of my own story in learning about discipleship. Having been to a great Bible school, I thought I was already for ministry. As a church planter in Taiwan, there were many challenges, including language learning, but we had cooperated with a church in southern Taiwan and saw God saving people. In a big tank brought to our nearby parking lot, we had a number of people baptized including one guy named Sen-Liang. I had focused so much on bringing him and others to faith, that I never thought how to follow-up on him. I remember wrestling with what to teach him and how to have Christ’s fullness displayed in him.

This whole process brought me to think more deeply about my former struggles and lack of personal discipleship. I was thinking, how does one rightly train a new Christian so that he/she won’t face all the difficulties I faced as a new believer. I had small group training but nothing at the personal level where I was hiding my spiritual problems, and so, I faced many a losing battle. I began to connect the need for personal discipleship with new believers—as Jesus instructed—with the success and ease of development for new believers.

So later, as a pastor, I saw little personal discipleship going on and developed 3XE discipleship booklets to aid Christians train new believers. It was a beginning as I quickly learned that learning did not stop with new believers. Many Christians had not learned to effectively battle temptation or grow close with the Lord. All this potential was missing from most churches.

As the years went on, the Lord showed me through 1 John 2:12-14 that there were three levels of discipleship, new believer, young Christian, and mature believer. The Lord wanted each of us to grow quickly to be strong mature believers, always at the Lord’s footstool learning how to depend on Him for strength, wisdom, and love to live out Christ’s likeness in our daily lives and ministry.

And so, God put on my heart not only knowing what is happening at each level of a Christian’s life, but on how Christians grow at each level. This is a longer story that I don’t have time for, but it became for me a spiritual map which helps others gain an understanding where they are, where they are going, and directions on how to get there.

I found an interesting recent article discussing why Apple decided to plan, from bottom up, to redesign their whole mapping program.

Given that the future of mobile devices was becoming very clear, it knew that mapping would be at the core of nearly every aspect of its devices, from photos to directions to location services provided to apps.

Knowing where we are and where we are going in our spiritual lives is so critical to having an effective growing Christian life. Philippians 1:6 provides for us many of the underlying basic building blocks to a strong Christian faith. I will point out six of them.

Six Basic Elements to a Strong Christian Life

As we look at Philippians 1:6, we will particularly note Paul’s strong faith by commenting on six keywords from this verse. Also, we study this verse to appreciate better what kind of faith and belief Paul had that had him working so persistently in the life of other believers. All of this rings of much potential for all us today, either in our personal growth or helping others grow. The truth here plays a fundamental role in our lives.

(1) Confident — The Faith Developing Process

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

An overall view helps develop confidence. Paul knew the very beginning and end of faith. He had seen the repetition of this cycle again and again since he both led many to the Lord and trained these disciples. Since it was God who oversaw it, Paul and all of us could put full confidence in God’s sanctifying work in the lives of all genuine believers.

This knowledge of God’s work in every Christian provides an excellent understanding of what is happening within them as a new, young, or mature Christian. Although God works in various ways, it is He who consistently works in our lives. We can learn how to cooperate with Him when we know He is so actively working in our lives.

This faith also helps us provide good care to others. We know God is working in their lives. Our love shines not only when we help them move but even when we help other believers in their walk. Believers often lack the confidence of God’s work in their lives and feel as if God is far off, and so we—like I have many times done—walk by faith believing God has not left them but eager to work with them. This truth helps the mentor or discipler to provide faith that the believer might have lost.

The lack of this confidence in God’s work always fights against personal development and can even cripple the church. Once we focus on our failures, then we tend to give up. This ‘give up’ attitude is not of the Lord for He is powerfully at work in our lives as we cooperate with Him. Big changes, however, take place when we gain faith in God’s work.

Repentance takes our eyes off our failures and strengthens our faith in God’s work.

(2) “He” — God’s Miracle in Each of Is

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

We must ask ourselves, “What is Paul so confident of?” The answer begins in this keyword “He” which refers to God, our Creator and Savior. There is nothing so amazing than to think that God is working in a powerful and personal way in each believer’s life. The Lord reveals His involvement in each of our lives. Although we have not personally reflected on how God works in each believer, the fact that it is God and that He is good strengthens our hope of God’s fantastic work in our lives. And so, with much confidence and the verification of the Old Testament events, we can state that our relationship with God means everything.

• Success comes from depending on the Lord (2 Chron 20:1-35).

• Failure comes from working apart from the Lord (2 Chron 20:36-37).

Our joy and praise come from observing and participating in His work. Again, when we feel down, it is because, like Peter, we look at the circumstances rather than God’s call and command. Can you agree that the success of a Christian depends on his or her reliance on the Lord?

But older believers often don’t tell these basic truths to new Christians nor do they often come alongside young Christian to explain how to regularly avoid falling into temptation. Do you see how believers can so easily get confused?

God-empowered living brings praise and honor to God and entirely counters man-centric living which has become prevalent around us today.

(3) “Began”— Salvation Activates the Sanctification Process

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

The word “began” points to our initial faith in Jesus, the start of our spiritual life. God initiates, and we respond. Like watering a dry plant, it suddenly perks up. The truth of God’s initiating work should not be a theologically debated issue, but a treasure stored deep in our bosom conveying deep love and security in our lives. God loves us and sent Jesus to die to take away our sin and bring us closer to His presence. God started it because He cares and is involved.

The beginning (“began”) refers to the start of our faith. Without faith, there is no spiritual life. We are in great danger if we ignore this beginning faith. Many are brought up in Christian families and confuse this faith with a culture or religion. But Paul the Apostle states that faith has a beginning point. At one point, we do not possess saving faith, and at another we do.

The natural ways to identify this is whether we delight in God’s gracious work in our lives. A focus on what we do for God becomes a warning sign that alarms us that either we are not genuine believers or very confused. God began this work of faith in our lives (Eph 2:1-9). It’s urgent that we affirm that we, in fact, can celebrate Christ’s work on the cross for our sins and consciously connect with that new set of desire in us associated with the new life. Our willingness to love, forgive, help others, even our enemies, is a mark of this new faith in us.

Much discipleship will have to do with helping them recognize that God started this new work in them. We want people not to be waylaid focusing on trying to gain God’s favor but rejoicing in Him. Having this faith and delight in the Lord will lead us forward into proper service where we live for Him. The Christian life is described much like our beginning faith, a faith where we see what God is doing in us.

Remember, how the vibrant faces of new believers announces the newfound faith; it is just the beginning. That is right. A new heart and relationship with God only forms the beginning of this excellent ongoing work that God is doing in each of our lives. If you are asking, what is this work that God is doing in me and other believers, you are asking the right questions.

Like a seed, all of our faith is destined
to grow until we see Christ.

(4) “Good work” —Character Development and Love

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

Our next question describes what God has begun in each genuine believer. We started in the last point to mention that new life in Christ issues forth a stream of new desires and ability to reflect Christ in our lives. This fruit of our faith is that good work and called saving faith or a new life in Christ.Philippians 1:6

God is a good God who creates many good things to happen in our lives. He is the source of the impulse to do good and love others. He provides the power to care and forgive others. The beginning of this good work of salvation produces the promise and power of life.

I mentioned earlier that God begins this new faith but note here that God is not only helping us at the beginning of our faith but also with the development of our faith. That good work equips us to accomplish whatever God wants to do in or by us. It is a great beginning (salvation) but even greater Christian life, that which we call sanctification, the increasing holiness of our lives.

Our good works are differently stated in Ephesians 2:10, a state which completes God’s purposes in us. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). We are designed and equipped. For example, patience is a character quality that enables a person to focus on the needs of others, even when he or she needs to refrain from fulfilling one’s desires or needs.

The goal of a discipleship relationship, then, is to show how God works in a believer to live out the good works that the Lord inspires and enables in them to be done by the Holy Spirit. We acknowledge God’s work and purpose in our lives by prioritizing our schedule and activities in such a way that we can keep close to the Lord listening to Him and, when possible, help others to take the steps on how to effectively watch how God carries out His good work in each of our lives.

Get excited on how God reveals His will and empowers you and others to carry it out!

(5) “Perfect” — A Developing Process

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

This verb “perfect” is like the discovery of a gem. At first, it looks like any other ordinary rock until you discover its hidden value. God doesn’t just command us to go forward into the battle but provides guidance, encouragement, and leadership. Begin and perfect become the complete duo enabling us to get all that He desires in our lives. (If we think of the totality of our Christian lives then we would need to think of ‘trio’ and add our resurrection when we this work is finished 1 John 3:2.) Instead of focusing on the world’s goals for our lives, we become, as His children, consumed with God’s purposes for us—just as Jesus said His food was to do His Father’s will. We are no different. A Christ-filled life is anything but boring.

How to get where we are going

Honestly, when we look at this perfecting process, it provides for increasing refinement so that our “engine” is running super smoothly. We will normally run into these impossible situations which enable us to depend upon God to get His work done. We say, “Impossible” but remember God is the perfecter. He specializes in the spectacular for as our Savior He is involved in bringing hope and resolution where there is none.

Of course, we are not only focusing on our own lives. As we spiritually develop, we learn how to help others grow. Helping others grow is the remarkable privilege of discipleship. We are not focused on our own lives, but the lives of others. As we help others to be reminded of God’s perfecting ways—which we do not get into here—, we grow. It is like being a good parent watching their many children grow. They are absorbed in helping the lives that God has entrusted them.

Our faith grows as we see Him working in us and others. God has started an ongoing sanctifying work in each genuine Christian. Discipleship is the recognition of what God is doing, eagerly learning and embracing not only the discoveries but the design and purpose for which God has formed our lives.

Today, this word “perfect” might be a new starting point for some believers. You might state, “I have failed or been inattentive to what You, O God, has for my life, but now I understand and welcome your new life to grow enormously within me.” Right, you see this repentant spirit is most appropriate because you now have faith observing what should be happening in your life but recognizing that you have failed.

Discipleship describes the purposed progress of spiritual development.

(6) “Until” — A Greater Change is Coming

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

The word “until” reminds us of the limited timeframe for this special work and that our earthly lives are primarily about our spiritual growth. When Christ returns, this opportunity passes. We only have one life to live for God.

The “until” refers to the coming of Jesus Christ, though if we die before His coming, we still through death enter the presence of Christ. But it all points to the fact that our earthly lives become a time of investing ourselves in God’s work in our lives. If we do poorly, our works will all be burned up—leaving little or no reward in heaven. But if we do well, the Lord is eager to bless us specially.

Our focus here, however, is not on this reward but that this testing of our lives will come to an end. We dare not say it is not essential nor should we allow the busyness of life, work, having children, recovering, following our interests distract us from God’s purpose for our lives.

The Lord began and perfects His marvelous work in our lives. He works in our lives so that we might seek Him on how to help others grow—discipleship.

It is a good work but it remains a work that we need to persist in accomplishing. The stronger and more vibrant your faith, you will be alert to what God is doing in you and in others, but if your faith is weak and you are flailing in sin, then surely you are wasting your calling and gifts.

The command “to make disciples” fixes our priorities on fostering spiritual growth.

A Summary on Our Faith

Teaching Principle: God begins and continues a holy good work in each genuine believer until Jesus returns.

My Life: We acknowledge God’s good work in us and become focused on welcoming His involvement in our lives.

Others: We observe God’s work in others and, where possible, help others grow spiritually.

Study Questions on Philippians 1:6

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6).

• Who is the “I”? (Who is speaking here?)

• List three synonyms for the word “confident”.

• List four things you are confident of (not related to this verse).

• What would you say he is confident of?

• What does this beginning work in a person refer to?

• Why might it be called a “good work”?

• What does “perfect it” mean?

• When is the day of Christ Jesus?

Application Questions

1. Do you have a confident overview of God’s spiritual work in you and others?

2. Are you attentive to God’s work in your life?

3. Do you know Christ and His power?

4. How would you say that you work along with God in His perfecting work in your life? How could it be improved?

5. Are you looking for opportunities to facilitate God’s good work in others?

6. Can you disciple a new believer? Who have you last discipled? How did it go?

7. Have you prioritized this personal work in your short life on earth?

Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted: (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988

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